British workers face being forced to obtain complex work permits, which could take weeks or even months to obtain, if the country leaves the European Union without an agreement. Travellers without the right authorisation could be rejected at the EU’s borders and their companies liable to hefty fines if member states decide to implement their strict immigration rules. Boris Johnson’s pledge to deliver Brexit on October 31 – with or without a deal – leaves British citizens facing the prospect of applying for complex work permits.
Business travellers will need to apply for the documentation on a country-by-country basis in order to carry out even the most basic tasks on the Continent.
“As of November 1, assuming a no-deal exit on October 31, businesses will have to navigate red lines across each of the EU27,” said Seema Farazi, head of financial services immigration at EY.
“This is a sea change for UK businesses used to the flexibility that has come with free movement.”
The European Commission has ensured Britons will have visa-free travel for short trips to Europe, but business travellers will not be covered by the move if they are doing more than attending meetings, networking events or conferences.
Raj Najik, a senior manager at immigration law firm Fragomen, told the Financial Times: “If we have a no-deal Brexit, they will have to start questioning where they are going, what they are doing and whether they need a work permit.”
A number of EU countries have already introduced a series of waivers for UK workers.
Germany will allow British businesses travellers to stay up to three months in the country.
Luxembourg will allow directors to attend board meetings and workers to negotiate contracts without a work permit.
However, financial services firms could be blocked from sending UK employees to carry out trading or portfolio management in the country.
Mr Najik added: “The basic rule is that if you are going to work you will need a work permit, but countries have different definitions of work.
“If you are doing more than that, you may need a work permit and that isn’t going to be quick.”
The UK Government has urged companies and employees to contact each country’s embassy to enquire about their specific rules for workers.
Last month, the CBI, Britain’s biggest business lobby, warned that businesses will have “immediate overnight disruption” in the event of a no deal Brexit.
They said firms that rely on sending their staff to the EU for short-term work or for “fly-in-fly-out services” would be most impacted.
Firms could be forced to relocate their operations and jobs to the EU to avoid the disruption if a permanent solution is not found, the CBI said.
Matthew Percival, head of employment at the CBI, said: “While short-term disruption could potentially harm ongoing projects, in the longer term there is a real threat to the UK’s competitiveness.”
Last weekend, Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission’s outgoing president, said Britain would be worst hit by a no-deal Brexit.
He said Mr Johnson, who is committed to delivering Brexit by November, has been “pretending” to British citizens and businesses that leaving the EU without a deal will be fine.
“If it comes to a hard Brexit, this is in no one’s interest, but the British would be the big losers. They pretend it’s not like that, but it will be,” Mr Juncker told an Austrian newspaper.
He added: “We are at maximum preparation, though some British authorities say we are not well prepared for a no deal.
“But I do not participate in this summer game. We are prepared and I hope the British are too.”
Mr Juncker insisted the Prime Minister’s “turbo-charged” no deal preparations would not spook Brussels into offering Britain a new Brexit deal.
“The new Prime Minister has made clear that he does not think of presenting this deal, which is not a deal, but a state agreement between the British Government and the European Union, to Parliament because it has already been rejected there three times,” he said.
“We’ve made it clear that we are unwilling to renegotiate the exit agreement.”